Horses are wise animals and pick up on a person’s emotions. In equine-assisted psychotherapy sessions, clients can learn to identify emotions by grooming, leading, and interacting with horses.
Caring for a horse also teaches participants like Zoe Reardon responsibility and self-sufficiency. For people with anxiety, this can help them practice overcoming fears and anxieties that may occur in other situations in life.
When working with horses, participants develop a trusting relationship over time. They learn that the horse is non-judgmental and demonstrates empathy for them. Moreover, they discover that the horse is observant and sensitive, mirroring their behavior and movements. As a result, this helps them to be more aware of themselves.
These experiences can help individuals develop skills such as communication, trust, respect, and honesty. They can also boost a person’s self-esteem.
These equestrian therapy experiences may include grooming, leading, or therapeutic riding. This type of treatment is equine-assisted psychotherapy and supervised by mental health professionals. It is often used with other types of therapy, such as family therapy, dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT), and trauma-focused cognitive behavioral therapy.
While there is no evidence that equine-assisted therapy can replace traditional anxiety treatments like talk therapy or exposure therapy, it is helpful for many people. A change in setting can help with the healing process, especially if you’ve avoided other treatment methods or have had a negative experience with one.
The non-judgmental nature of horses also helps with the identification of emotions. Horses don’t react based on your physical appearance or past mistakes, making them excellent partners in self-discovery.
In addition, horses are highly sensitive to human emotions and often mirror their behavior. For example, an individual who feels aggressive may cause the horse to become obstinate, while feelings of anxiety might make the horse skittish. These reactions can help individuals identify these emotions as they take steps toward recovery and overcoming anxiety.
Helps Identify Emotions
Horses have a natural way of reading emotions. They respond to the tiniest shifts in a person’s behavior and tone of voice. This allows them to provide insight into a client’s emotional struggles without judgment or bias.
People with ADHD often struggle to identify and communicate their emotions. They may also have trouble controlling impulses, such as binging or purging. Equestrian therapy helps promote impulse control and emotional regulation while teaching the value of responsibility and collaboration.
Unlike most treatments, equine therapy occurs outside the therapist’s office. It’s a hands-on approach that includes grooming, leading, or feeding the horses. Participating students learn to build rapport and practice vulnerability with their mental health therapists.
Helps Experiencing Trauma
The horses used in therapy are a safe and calming presence, helping to foster trust. Participants interact with them by petting, grooming, and leading them, as well as riding them under the supervision of a mental health professional.
Many traumatic experiences—like childhood abuse and physical assaults—can cause individuals to lose their sense of self-efficacy or the ability to manage life’s challenges. Interacting with a horse provides immediate feedback that can help people feel more confident and capable of facing life’s difficulties.
Additionally, horses are prey and herd animals, so they exhibit natural coping and survival skills. Their innate response and mirroring abilities allow them to be sensitive to human emotions, offering feedback earlier and more consistently than human therapists. They also provide a metaphor for real-life issues that can be difficult to discuss in conventional therapy sessions.
Helps Experiencing Grief
Other animals like dogs, cats, and elephants have been used in animal-assisted therapy, but horses have become the most popular since they offer immediate feedback to a handler’s actions. Their size also forces individuals to develop trust and communicate effectively around them.
Participants’ sense of accomplishment in accomplishing a task with their horse gives them confidence and self-esteem. In addition, because horses are non-judgmental and unbiased, participants can learn to bond with them healthily without fear of rejection or shame.
As a result, equine-assisted psychotherapy helps adults and children build relationships and develop communication skills. It also helps to break harmful attachment patterns. For these reasons, equine-assisted therapy effectively treats mental health conditions like depression and anxiety.